Thursday, 14 February 2019

Synod 2020. Liverpool. Number 4

I attended the initial meeting of members for the Synod yesterday at the Diocesan Offices in Liverpool. One of three such meetings around the Diocese. The Synod members are comprised of priests, laity and representatives from various groups and organisations in the Archdiocese. It was encouraging to see our seminarians present as well.

The main speaker was Fr Eamonn Mulcahy. He is an excellent speaker, lively and fast flowing, carrying the audience through on his flow of excitable logic. I've never met Fr Mulcahy before, so don't know him personally, but I have a strong suspicion that our understandings of the Church are probably in diametric opposition.

As a speaker, he also had the knack - used several times - of prefacing a sentence with, "I don't want to make a crude caricature but..." and then proceed to make the crude caricature he just ruled out. A neat verbal trick. I will use myself sometime.

After the starting round of jokes about football and liturgical attire to establish his rapport as man of the people we moved on to various forms of praise for many of the misconceptions promulgated by the sons and daughters of the Second Vatican Council who see the freewheeling "spirit" of the Council (usually compromised politically by socialism, theologically by liberalism and socially by indifferentism) as much more important than what the documents of the Council actually say. 

I'm no expert on the Council but I know at least one man who is (present yesterday and not impressed).

I made some notes from the presentation which particularly struck me as examples of this. The Synod is proclaimed as all about listening (which in itself, as a theological and social hermeneutic for a synod, I have some difficulties with). That being said I listened to what was said and I heard what was behind it but after doing so, still could not agree with it. The basic premises - quotes from Scripture, Saints and Papal teaching - were all there but Father's interpretation was, to my mind, directed by a very particular (and sadly, not very novel) set of ideas.

So to get to some of the details.

Father was very keen on the role of the laity as baptised Christians including the roles of Christ as Priest, Prophet, King and Queen (as he put it, bowing the knee to secular political correctness - though, if it was to be carried through, should it not be Priest, Priestess, Prophet, Prophetess, King and Queen?) This part is nonsense, or course, because these are not OUR roles but CHRIST'S and we share in them. As far as I know, Our Lord has never been revealed as a Queen in the Scriptures. He has no role as Queen and therefore we cannot share in such a role.

These are indeed roles of the lay Faithful but Father Mulcahy seemed to imply, more than once, that unlike in clericalized and wrong-headed past times, these roles for the laity should now be understood as pertaining to what we might normally have thought of as the role of the ordained faithful.  A practical example  of this is in high profile evidence at the Synod meetings. Much of the prayer is led by lay people, predominantly lay women. Yesterday at the various prayer sessions without one sign of the cross throughout the whole day and no priestly blessing to send us on our way.

The Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly roles are indeed spoken of in the Catechism and in Canon Law but it is quite clear that their sphere is not to invade the ministerial priesthood but rather to exercise these roles in their own specific spheres - home, work, family, secular society - the places where the ordained minister often does not have access. This is not some second class ministry but vital to the spreading of the Gospel. 

For the Priestly Office of the lay Faithful (CCC 901-903) the Catechism speaks of offering their lives out in the world to God as a spiritual sacrifice - brought to God specifically during the Mass, where they are offered alongside the offering of the ministerial priest. Canon Law goes on to explain that the lay faithful (apart from the context of approved ministries such as acolyte and lector) are authorised to "stand in" for the priest in the areas of proclaiming the Word and leading liturgical prayer only where the presence of a priest is lacking. (Code of Canon Law 230 #3) This refers back to Vatican II documents Lumen Gentium 35; Apostolicam Actuositatem 24; Ad Gentes 16,17. "...lay persons providing certain liturgical services when ministers were unable to do so."

For the Prophetic Office of the lay Faithful (CCC 904-907) the Catechism again emphasises their role as witness in the world. The Catechism goes on to say that the lay Faithful also have a right and duty to manifest their opinions "with due regard to integrity of faith" and indeed, when trained, to collaborate in teaching and catechesis and in the use of the communications media. (Once more, powerful ministries with a real hope of bringing souls to Christ). Again, Father Mulcahy seemed to imply that the real role of the lay Faithful was now to be in opposition to the ordained ministry. Not simply to speak truth to power but to assume that power for themselves in some sort of revolution from the (false?) practices of the past.

For the Kingly Office of the lay Faithful (CCC 908-913) the Catechism reminds us that this is principally (for all the faithful, lay or ordained) "by the self-abnegation of a holy life, to overcome the reign of sin in themselves." In other words, principally we exercise this by overcoming any wickedness in our own lives. The Catechism goes on to speak of "remedying the conditions and institutions of the world by conforming them to the norms of justice." Again, a vital mission in evangelising out in the world. Only thirdly does the Catechism come to the lay Faithful  "co-operating with pastors" in the "exercise of the power of governance in accordance with the norms of the law" at such things as diocesan synods, pastoral councils finance committees etc."

Overall, there seemed to be a juxtaposing of ordained ministry (characterised at every opportunity as "clericalism" and lay ministry formerly squashed but now freed to overthrow the allegedly evil hierarchical structures.) A sort of anarchy - not in a vague sense but understood as a specific political philosophy. A freewheeling gypsy caravan was the model alluded to. (Incidentally, although the laity apparently had no role apart from obeying in the previous centuries before the glorious 1960's, reference was made later in the day that in 1960 a full fifty percent of Catholic in Liverpool Archdiocese belonged to solidalities of one sort or another - SVP, Young Christian Workers, Legion of Mary, etc. This seems to mitigate against the idea that lay people were not involved in exercising their true ministry.

This was illustrated by the tired canard of the inverted pyramid. "Old days", pyramid with Pope at top and lay people at bottom (crushed like a massa damnata beneath the weight of the hierarchy above.)
"New days", upside down pyramid with majority - the laity - at the top. Sounds great as an illustration of a new order but have you ever tried to build an upside down pyramid. Inherently unstable and certain to fall down. We cannot simply abandon the idea of hierarchy in the Church. "Lumen Gentium, Chapter three: The Church is hierarchical. Jesus Christ set up the holy Church by entrusting the apostles with their mission... He willed that the their successors, the bishops, should be shepherds in his Church until the end of the world... to be firmly believed by all the faithful." (#18) The mission and the Church were again set in opposition by Fr Mulcahy; that there was a mission long before there was a Church. The mission and the Church are not in opposition. Both flow directly from Christ's earthly incarnation. 

Father reminded us that God in the Old Testament and Christ in the New often spoke with the imperative "GO!" That indeed is so, but Our Lord did not say, "Go and listen to all the gibberish in the world" he said, "Go therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Mtt 28:19-20)

There was much of opposition in Father's presentation. Which makes for drama but not necessarily for harmony with the teaching of the Church. 
A personal relationship with Jesus was presented in opposition to the Creed.
The spiritual was presented in opposition to ritual.
No new way of being church without rejecting wholesale all that bears relation to the past.

To my mind this is dangerous for us as Church. As a wise tutor at seminary often repeated, True Catholicism is always "both... and..."   NEVER  "either... or..."
We need a personal relationship with Jesus and we need the Creed.
We need the spiritual and the ritual - they are not exclusive.
We need the past in order to live the future.

I was reminded of a much more wholesome understanding of change in the Church. In 1909 G.K.Chesterton wrote (January issue of Church Socialist Quarterly):
"I mean that a tree goes on growing, and therefore goes on changing, but always in the fringes surrounding something unchangeable. The innermost rings of the tree are still the same as when it was a sapling; they have ceased to be seen, but they have not ceased to be central. When the tree grows a branch at the top , it does not break away from the roots at the bottom; on the contrary, it needs to hold more strongly by the roots the higher it rises with its branches. That is the true image of the vigorous and healthy progress of a man, a city, or a whole species."

We have been asked to listen during the Synod but we must discern with the ears of Faith what we listen to.


David O'Neill said...

So many of our clergy seem to have this mindset of everyone being all things to all men. Whilst not decrying the role of the laity in the Church we must, surely, accept that the clergy & laity have very different roles to fulfil. Admitting that the shortage of priests doesn't make life easy for any of us we should remember that the days of the persecution of Catholics in England did not lead to a mass crying out for the laity to take on the roles of the clergy or (in the words of the priest you discuss) "priest, prophet etc". In fact the Church seemed very much stronger in those penal days as the Catholic Church was truly universal insofar as wherever in the world one was there was EXACTLY the same celebration of our central core - the Holy Mass.

Kenny said...

Yes Simon totally agree I was at the meeting It was all very predictable the same old “70” Catholics who come out the woodwork for such occasions to push a certain misreading of Vat11 while ignoring the 2000 years that went before. Since as Priests we are no longer “relevant “in the church of Vat 11” maybe we should all as a group pull out of the synod.

Kenny said...

There was a Synod up here in Paisley Diocese, about two years ago I think. So far nothing has come of it.

Anonymous said...

I heard Fr Eamon speak several years ago and it sounds exactly the same. He is very genuine, very committed and makes a great impression on people but it's not really thought through and it's all very short term, the only reason young people won't go to church is because they associate it with too many false attitudes and a lot of compromises

Anonymous said...

Well written Padre,

I think if Catholic identity was clarified by the Synod then it would become obvious that we need to affirm catholic teaching at all levels and pray with the remaining 131 priests not marginalise them . Only if we can explore how we can all become part of the Mass by just believing in the mystery and not watering down what it means to be catholic in the offering of our daily lives in 2020 does the Synod stand a chance. We need quality not quantity.
Let us not forget there was only one Jesus- and his authentic example is our vision for today.

Damask Rose said...
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